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A Good Contender but There Are Other Choices
on 21 September 2010
In the 1960s, there were dozens of recordings of this score in dozens of languages available. Now, realistically on CD, there are five. The Original Broadway Cast (Zero Mostel and Maria Karnilova), the Original London Cast (Topol and Miriam Karlin), the film (Topol and Norma Crane) and the newer arrivals Broadway 2006 (Alfred Molina and Randy Graff) and London 2007 (Henry Goodman and Beverley Klein). To complicate your choice, no two of these has exactly the same material.
First of all, decide whether you want the inhabitants of Anatevka to have American or European accents. Personally, I prefer European. You have to like Tevye for this show to work so it is important to go for a Tevye whose interpretation you like. The performance of Golde matters too. My favourite pairing is Topol and Miriam Karlin on the Original London Cast album. However, this has its downside: the actors playing Tzeitl and Motel, brilliant in the theatre, don't sing as well as any of the others on record. The recording is atmospheric and has the "Bottle Dance" and a host of demo recordings of numbers written for but cut from the show, which make an interesting supplement.
I don't warm to the Original Broadway Cast recording as much because, although the children are better, I don't find Tevye and Golde so appealing. This recording does now have the "Bottle Dance" and "I Just Heard" and it is the only recording to showcase this number. Frankly, it's a one-joke comedy number, needed to lighten the mood of Act Two which would be be distinctly doom-laden without some light relief. There is also less dialogue used on this recording.
The film recording stands apart. It sounds magnificent but, like so many film soundtracks, it is better with the picture so this version is one to buy on DVD. It also has Isaac Stern as the Fiddler and was the first recording to let us hear "Chaveleh".
Of the two 21st recordings, I prefer the Alfred Molina, despite the American accents. This digital recording sounds less atmospheric than the earlier analogue recordings. The Original London Cast gives the music plenty of room to breathe and sounds far more natural. This new recording was, however, the first to include Tevye's monologues. The supporting roles are all well taken and a major plus is the inclusion of the number ("Topsy-Turvy") that replaced "I Just Heard". I really like this number not least because it is genuinely funny but also because it gives Yente, the Matchmaker, more to do and, in performance, must surely lighten the second act right where it needs lightening. We also get the "Bottle Dance" and "The Farewell".
Lastly, there is the 2007 London Cast recording. Of all, this is my least favourite. This production used reduced orchestrations but recorded them in close digital sound. We get Tevye's monolgues and the "Bottle Dance" plus "The Wedding Dance", once again not available on any other recording. We don't get either "I Just Heard" or "Topsy-Turvy". We do, however, get an orchestral version of "To Life", presumably as a play out. This is a miscalculation as without seeing the cast taking their bows, the show ends with virtually the whole cast of characters being forced out of their homes, followed by a rousing hurrah from the orchestra. "The Farewell" ,or the traditional short melody from the Fiddler used on the Original Broadway and Original London Cast recordings, in purely aural terms, work better.
So, after all these consdierations, which do you buy? If your bank balance will stand it, get the Original London Cast AND the 2006 Broadway Cast. They really complement each other. If you're a completist, you'll have already got them all anyway (and why not?). If you only want one, go for the Original London Cast (relatively inexpensensive) if you want the villagers to sound European or the 2006 Broadway Cast (exoensive in Europe!) if you prefer them to sound American.